HAMILTON — To be a Tiger-Cat in Hamilton even on a day when they’re digging out from a 17-centimetre snow dump on the week of the Eastern Final is a beautiful thing.
“It’s amazing. It’s hard to even move anywhere right now,” said seven-year veteran linebacker Simoni Lawrence.
“When I go out to eat, I have people jumping all over me. It’s crazy. It’s a great football town, especially when you’re giving them what you are supposed to give them.
“They’ve always been great fans ever since I’ve been here. But this year is just at another level. I’m talking about not having to pay for a drink or pay for food. It’s crazy,” added Lawrence.
Receiver Speedy Banks, also a seven-year member of the Tiger-Cats, is probably the most recognizable player on the team.
“It’s overwhelming to go out in the community right now. Everywhere I go they speak to me and encourage me. Man, everywhere I go somebody recognizes me.
“They’re definitely embracing me so I’m definitely trying to give back to them by getting a Grey Cup for them.
“I was in a grocery store the other day and somebody was yelling ‘Brandon!’
“They’ve been calling me ‘Speedy B’ for so long here that I almost forgot my first name is Brandon. It was weird. Nobody calls me by my first name here.
“The city and the fans definitely deserve the type of season that we put together for them. They definitely deserve a Grey Cup. It’s been a while.”
The Ti-Cats have had their most successful season in regular season history. And that’s a lot of history.
It’s the 150th season in the combined history of the Tiger-Cats and predecessors the Tigers and Wildcats and they’ve been holding sesquicentennial celebrations throughout the season.
Hamilton ended up with a 15-3 record and the Tiger-Cats also went a perfect 9-0 at home, the first time the team has done that since the league went to an 18-game schedule.
Offensive lineman Mike Filer is the longest serving Tiger-Cat at eight seasons.
“It’s been awesome. From top down in this organization there have been the components of a winning football team. Guys have bought in. And everybody has become like one. Obviously this city has been long deserving of a successful team,” he said.
At 1 p.m. here Wednesday the Tiger-Cats announced the crossover Eastern Final against the Edmonton Eskimos is sold out and encouraged their fans to make it a blackout by all wearing black Sunday.
Four-point favourites to win the game, Hamilton is 7-to-4 favourites to win the Grey Cup compared to 5-to-2 Saskatchewan, 13-to-4 Winnipeg and 15-to-4 Edmonton in odds provided by BetOnline.ag.
The city seems to be oblivious to the fact that only three of the last seven teams to go 9-0 at home actually made it to the Grey Cup. Calgary in 2017, 1994 and 1993 and Edmonton in 1989 all lost. Toronto in 1991 and 1997 and Montreal all won not only the division final but went on to win the Grey Cup.
“It’s been special because we’ve had years where we’ve really struggled,” said receiver Luke Tasker of the season so far.
“We started the season 0-8 two years ago. I mean it really has been special. We have a championship mentality here and it’s been like that since Day 1. It’s been a very special team to be part of.
“I think it’s been most special for the fans. I’m glad we’ve been able to give them those home wins this year. I think it’s been really enjoyable for the fans,” added the seven-year member of the club.
“It’s been great to be a Tiger-Cat in Hamilton so far this year,” said six-year veteran Ted Laurent. “But we’re not done yet. We’re not finished. We’re not satisfied.
“We’re not flashy. We’re not pretty. We just go about our business of getting it done. That’s what this city is all about. Hard Steeltown workers.”
Rookie coach Orlondo Steinhauer said Hamilton is a great place to be hanging your helmet these days.
“The community is buzzed. People have got gear that I haven’t seen. It’s a little tainted. I mean, light yellow. Dark grey is black. But that’s OK. They’re feeling it. You can see they’re feeling it as they go through the Tim Hortons lines.
“But this isn’t here and now. They’ve been feeling it since Labour Day or sometime around then. We just wanted to give everybody in the city something that when they drive home in the car they can say ‘That football team is out there playing hard.’
“It’s the Steeltown mentality and they enjoy it. There is a buzz around town and I’m ultra proud of our guys and what they’ve done in the community, going to hospitals and being part of the school programs. This city deserves this.”
One way or another
One of the reasons the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been successful this season is being a different team to play from one week to the next.
“We haven’t been a cookie-cutter model,” said rookie head coach Orlondo Steinhauer.
“We don’t say ‘This is what we do, this is what we continue to do and we’re going to try to do this at 100 per cent.
“We’re going to do whatever we think we have to do from week to week and I think we’ve all kind of absorbed that.
“I think the offensive staff has done a great job all year of game planning. I think all three coordinators have done outstanding jobs.”
No cliques allowed
One thing rookie head coach Orlondo Steinhauer wanted this year was a football team without cliques.
“I think this football team is special that way.
“It’s not just on offensive line dinner. It’s O-Line, D-Line. It’s receivers going out with defensive backs.
“It’s not a bunch of little pods and cliques.
“I think these guys genuinely care about each other. I think that’s the culture we’re establishing here. It’s still not where we want to be but I think we’re seeing some of the fruit of that from planting those seeds at the start of the year.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019